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story.lead_photo.caption A Macedonian police officer helps a man who collapsed while migrants and police faced off Friday as the crowd tried to enter Macedonia at the border with Greece. - Photo by AP / BORIS GRDANOSKI

IDOMENI, Greece -- Macedonian police fired stun grenades Friday to disperse thousands of migrants stuck in Greece and clashed with them as they desperately tried to rush over the border.

A woman with a baby looks for her family among the migrants waiting Friday to push into Macedonia near a police blockade on the border with Greece. At least eight people were injured in a melee. A few groups of families later were allowed to cross.

The day before, Macedonia's government had declared a state of emergency on the border to halt a human tide heading to the European Union's north.

About 3,000 people who spent the night in the open made several attempts to charge the police, and some hurled stones at the Macedonian forces. At least eight people were injured in the melee, according to Greek police.

Armed police backed by armored vehicles spread coils of razor wire over rail tracks used by migrants to cross on foot from Greece to Macedonia, and the army was deployed Friday to the border areas. Macedonia shut the border to crossings Thursday.

Dozens of people fainted as they tried to position themselves in the line to cross, with riot police pushing them back with shields against the tide. Children cried and women wept in the chaotic scenes that left many migrants stranded for another night on the dusty field.

"I don't know why are they doing this to us," said Mohammad Wahid, an Iraqi. "I don't have passport or identity documents. I cannot return and have nowhere to go. I will stay here till the end."

Among the injured was a youngster who was bleeding from what appeared to be shrapnel from the stun grenades that were fired directly into the crowd. A man holding a baby got tangled in razor wire separating the two sides.

Hours after Friday's clashes, however, Macedonian police started letting small groups of families with children cross by walking along railway tracks to a station in the nearby Macedonian city of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia.

"They are letting groups of about 30-40 people go, probably because they want to control the rush into Macedonia," said a Syrian who gave only his first name, Hassan, who was walking with his family toward Gevgelija. "I think they'll let all of us go eventually."

Aurelie Ponthieu, a Doctors Without Borders adviser, said in a statement that Macedonian authorities used violence against vulnerable people.

"The shocking scenes today are a result of extreme measures to prevent desperate people fleeing violence and war from crossing borders," the statement said. "But closing borders and using violence is not a solution, it is just provoking a humanitarian crisis on the other side."

The United Nations' refugee agency, said in a statement that it is "particularly worried about the thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants, especially women and children, now massed on the Greek side of the border amid deteriorating conditions."

Greece has seen an unprecedented wave of refugees and other foreigners this year, most fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan. More than 160,000 have arrived so far, mostly crossing in inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast -- an influx that has overwhelmed Greek authorities and the country's small Aegean islands.

From Greece, most head to the country's northern border with Macedonia, where they take trains and head north through Serbia and Hungary on their way to the more prosperous EU countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

Macedonian police said blocking the refugees on the 30-mile border was introduced "for the security of citizens who live in the border areas and for better treatment of the migrants."

Almost 39,000 migrants, most of them Syrians, have registered as passing through Macedonia in the past month, double the number from the month before.

Off Greece's eastern islands, Greek coast guard said Friday that a patrol boat from Europe's border agency Frontex had spotted a capsized boat off the island of Lesbos. One migrant was found dead and 15 others were rescued.

Separately, the coast guard said it had picked up 620 people in 15 search-and-rescue operations in the past 24 hours off Lesbos, Samos, Agathonissi, Leros, Farmakonissi, Kos and Megisti. That doesn't include hundreds more who have reached the islands on their own.

A Greek government-chartered ferry carrying about 2,200 mainly Syrian refugees from Lesbos -- which sees the highest number of arrivals in Greece -- reached Athens later Friday.

One of the Syrian passengers, Alan Jamil, said he was not aware Macedonia had closed its border, but he would find a way out of Greece.

"We don't know, but it isn't difficult for us because we will cross the border, we will ask our relatives how they go, and we will pass," he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Costas Kantouris, Elena Becatoros and Nicholas Paphitis of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/22/2015

Print Headline: Macedonia police, migrants clash

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